HomeOpinionClose to home: How global events have local effects

Close to home: How global events have local effects

Makomborero Muzenda
THE historical narrative of the 20th century skews largely towards the West. From World War One and Two to the Cold War and so-called ‘End of History’, the world has been presented as a casual spectator to Western-dominance.

From what I learnt in ‘O’ and ‘A’ Level, the battlefield was Europe. It is easy to forget that the two conflicts are called world wars for a reason — every region in the globe was affected by the wars.

That includes Zimbabwe. We were still a colony of southern Rhodesia but men of all races fought in both wars. It was black African soldiers who, having been treated as somewhat equal during the Second World War, came back home to live under the same colonial systems and decided that enough was enough.

The Cold War is labelled as ‘cold’ because its two primary instigators — the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) — never directly confronted each other in combat.

However, this so-called cold conflict was boiling hot in the regions where proxy wars played out. Liberation struggles were also undoubtedly influenced by the decades-long ideological battle for supremacy.

The Soviets supported political and military organisations such as military wing of Zapu, Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Party (Zipra), the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa.

American and British governments initially supported colonial administrations, but as the winds of change began to blow, their positions shifted to supporting democratic elections as the path to peaceful transitions to majority rule.

This is not meant to be a revision lesson on ‘O’ level history.

These events highlight the fact that it is easy to forget or downplay: events that take place on the other side of the world, which are likely to have ramifications for our little teapot country.

There are several events happening at the same time globally.

There is the conflict in Ukraine, and the ensuing sanctions against Russia. Another wave of Covid-19 looms on the horizon as cities in China lockdown once again.

In America, whispers and concerns about another economic recession seem to be getting louder.

Closer to home, insurgents in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado region have been operating since late 2017.

Although military operations have been able to reduce the insurgency’s size and influence, Ansar al-Sunna still remain active in the area. The South African government’s proposed National Labour Migration Policy would set quotas for how many foreign nationals can work in sectors such as agriculture, hospitality and construction.

Although not explicitly stated, the focus on low-skilled employment almost certainly targets African migrants.

Fresh off local by-elections and with political planning and strategy now slowly shifting to the 2023 elections, now may be a good time to look more critically at how the world outside our borders will affect us in the coming months and years.

Let us start with the situation in Ukraine. Alongside other countries such as Namibia, Senegal and South Africa, Zimbabwe has chosen not to take a firm stance on either side of the conflict.

Zimbabwe abstained from voting on a United Nations General Assembly Resolution demanding that Russia withdraw its troops from Ukraine.

However, this does not mean that we will escape the effects.

An immediate concern is food security. The 2021/2022 rainy season initially had a good forecast, with normal to above normal rains expected. This did not quite happen.

A March 2022 report by the Famine Early Warning System Network (FewsNet) notes that erratic rainfall patterns will lead to lower agricultural outputs and yields.

The World Food Programme estimates that five million people in the country are facing hunger. Already classified as food insecure, Zimbabwe’s already difficult situation could become worse.

Both Russia and Ukraine are major global exporters of wheat, maize, barley and sunflower oil.

With the majority of wheat imports into Zimbabwe coming from Russia, the longer the conflict continues, the more food prices will go up.

Furthermore, we import nitrate fertiliser — used in wheat and maize production — from Russia. The price of fertiliser has already increased by 50%, and while there is enough fertiliser for winter crops, this sharp increase will lead to a further increase in prices.

The price of bread has already gone up by 15% in January of this year. The more expensive wheat and maize are, the more expensive flour becomes, and ultimately, the higher the price of bread and mealie meal.

Then there is fuel.

The conflict in Ukraine is not solely to blame here: oil production in the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) has failed to rise to the levels of demand globally.

The eight-year conflict in Yemen has escalated in recent weeks, with oil facilities in Saudi Arabia being key targets.

Combined with disruptions in oil supplies from Russia (where oil exports have dropped by over 20%), the price of fuel has gone up globally.

Zimbabwe already has one of the highest fuel costs in the Sadc region, second only to Malawi. Since the conflict in Ukraine began in the last week of February, fuel prices have gone up thrice.

At the beginning of the year, prices stood at US$1,41 and US$1,38 for blend and diesel. Now, it is US$1,59 and US$1,60 respectively.

Perhaps the most concerning event that could have dire consequences for Zimbabwe would be another recession in America.

The warning signs are there, from inflation and rising interest rates. Now a recession is not a foregone conclusion: in fact, there are also signs that the American economy is doing okay, given the global circumstances.

However, the last major American recession between 2007 and 2009 triggered a global economic crisis. A 2009 report by the World Bank showed that the recession negatively affected trade, access to credit facilities, and investments.

As it currently stands, Zimbabwe is just coming out of a recession that began in 2019. Another American economic crisis could threaten the small but crucial steps the country has taken towards recovery.

It can be easy to believe that events unfolding far away from our borders will have no effect on us and our daily lives. The reality is that we increasingly live in an interconnected globe.

In the midst of conversations on how best to develop and build Zimbabwe’s economic, political and cultural spaces,

It is worth remembering that we need to engage with and navigate the wider world.

As the 2020s continue to promise to be a decade of uncharted terrain, let us not downplay just how rough these waters are for the countries and people who don’t get to make the headlines.

  • Muzenda is a writer and analyst. These weekly New Horizon articles published in the Zimbabwe Independent are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance and Accountancy in Zimbabwe (CGI Zimbabwe). – kadenge.zes@gmail.com or mobile: +263 772 382 852.

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